Editor’s note: Amber Ault, Ph.D., MSW, is a member of the Lovefraud Professional Resources Guide and author of “The Five Step Exit—The skills you need to leave a narcissist, psychopath or other toxic partner and recover your happiness now.” She will also be presenting online courses in Lovefraud’s upcoming Continuing Education program.
What experience have you had dealing with sociopaths or other disordered personalities—personally, professionally, or both?
I provide mental health assessment and services both to people who have personality disorders, including psychopaths, narcissists, and people with Borderline personality and to partners, family members, and others who are intimately involved with them. In my role as a mental health crisis worker and an ER social worker dedicated to assessing suicide and homicide risk, I frequently work with clients and patients considered to have personality disorders — and the family members who are suffering as a result. In my private practice, I specialize in serve clients who have suffered in relationships with personality disordered family members, romantic partners, or workplace bullies. I also offer local and distance Rollercoaster Relationship Recovery workshops to help survivors move forward (see amberault.com) and will be offer trainings through Lovefraud CE for both therapists and the public.
How do you go about helping clients who have tangled with a sociopath?
I use a range of tools to help people. These include practices designed to clarify the clients’ goals (leaving, staying, recovering…) and supporting them in pursing those as skillfully as possible. I use cognitive behavioral therapy, a range of modes of trauma treatment, psycho-education, and a structured process I have designed called The Five Step Exit to help those who are leaving or recovering feel empowered and optimistic.
What, in your experience, is the biggest issue or problem that people who have been betrayed by a sociopath need to overcome?
People who have experienced betrayal in intimate relationships suffer in many ways — from trauma to financial loss to eroded self-esteem to a sense that they can’t trust their own perceptions to ongoing nervous system agitation (can’t sleep, always thinking about the Ex..). It’s hard to name one issue as the biggest one, but one of the greatest priorities for survivors needs to be bringing their bodies back into balance. When our bodies function well and calmly because we’ve had enough sleep and exercise and decent nutrition, it’s much easier to address the myriad problems that come up in a toxic relationship or its aftermath.
What’s one tip you can suggest for helping Lovefraud readers recover from the betrayal of a sociopath?
Become very clear about your priorities. Write them down as commitments: “I am completely committed to protecting my job,” for example. Identify your top five or so commitments, and then allow yourself to make decisions based on how they align with these priorities. Recognize that you may benefit from simply letting go of the rest.